THE mere mention of ‘Moneyball’ is enough to make most sport analyst’s eyes roll.

Long before Brad Pitt got involved in the movie, American baseball executive Billy Beane pioneered a statistics-heavy approach to recruitment with the Oakland A’s which proved successful and opened the door for a plethora of copycats.

The central premise of Bean’s approach was that players’ usefulness could be broken down into numbers and that the traditional way of evaluating potential had become outdated.

It allowed the A’s to compete on par with teams possessing much larger budgets and at a fraction of the cost. Within a few years, Moneyball had passed into the sporting lexicon and was applied to any club who valued sabermetrics - the use of stats to evaluate and compare performances of players.

The term was viewed as a bit of a cliché by those in the industry but nevertheless, data analysis remains big business and its use in football is widespread.

What does all this mean for Bolton Wanderers, you might ask?

The club’s new owners, Football Ventures, are understood to be restructuring the recruitment and analysis department along the same lines as those of Brentford, RB Leipzig in Germany, and FC Midtjylland in Denmark, all teams who have been tagged as ‘Moneyball’ exponents in the last few years.

Wanderers were at the forefront of the data uprising in the early part of the millennium as Sam Allardyce convinced the club - or rather the BWFC Development Association - to invest in ProZone, then a new and exciting software which tracked players’ individual performances and allowed his army of backroom staff to maximise the squad’s effectiveness.

Given the way technology flooded the game in the last two decades, the story no longer seems as revolutionary, but there were signs in some of Big Sam’s business in the Premier League days that early ‘Moneyball’ was at play.

Ex-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger name-checked Bean as a personal role model, his own recruitment policy having gone along similar lines, and these days virtually any manager that enjoys success without spending a packet is tagged with the ‘Moneyball’ stamp.

However, few clubs have embraced it quite like Brentford. The Bees’ owner Matthew Benham made his money as the owner of a gambling firm, and much of the mathematics involved in its success translated into his approach at Griffin Park.

After promotion from League One in 2013/14, the club finished in the top half of the Championship for the last five seasons. And it is estimated they raked in around £55-60million in profit on player transfers during that time.

Danish executive Rasmus Ankersen, who also has ties to FC Midytlland, is another key figure in Bentham’s plan – his world-wide scouting network creating a real league of nations in the dressing room but one which has delivered qualified success year upon year.

But will it work at Wanderers? Perceived wisdom is that the recruitment approach which has been utilised in the last few years cannot continue.

Keith Hill and David Flitcroft brought in nine players on transfer deadline day in August, 48 hours after their arrival, and less than a week after Football Ventures’ takeover was finally confirmed. The net result was a team that had not properly bonded, had differing levels of fitness and the potential to pick up injuries as a result.

Quickly after that, the new owners reached out for some expertise in the field. Ex-Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon agreed to come in on a consultancy basis and start to lay some of the groundwork for the planned changes.

Ex-FV director, Jeff Thomas, is another key figure – bringing in a background in sport and contacts in data analysis whose work has already begun.

At times in the last few years, the last couple of weeks of transfer windows at Bolton have more resembled the last round on Supermarket Sweep. Phil Parkinson put in place a scouting network anchored by former Luton and West Ham defender Tim Breacker – but his efforts were quickly usurped by Ken Anderson and, often, his son Lee, who had a curiously unspecific role at the club but who openly advertised his influence on recruitment.

Once administration began in May the recruitment baton was passed on to another consultant, this time former Dagenham and Redbridge owner, Keith Cousins, who stood to profit handsomely from the process.

It is understood he lined up a number of deals with Parkinson’s blessing, aimed at ensuring the club would start in League One with a competitive squad. Unfortunately, the long delays in completing the takeover left targets wandering off elsewhere and though he did play some part in bringing in players with Hill and Flitcroft in August, it is entirely fair to say Bolton did not really get their money’s worth.

Football Ventures are looking to put some long-term plans in place and by next month should have appointed a head of football operations to liaise between the first team coaching staff and the board.

Concerns have been raised about the management structure at the UniBol potentially becoming top-heavy but, in reality, it is only now returning to something like normal for a club of Bolton’s size after the noticeable absence of senior staff – or perhaps dissenting voices – during Anderson’s reign.

And if a move is to be made towards data-driven recruitment then the staff numbers and costs involved can be high, and not offset until the rewards start theoretically trickling in.

It has been some time since Wanderers turned a real profit on the recruitment front, and one of the key factors in the Brentford model extolled by Ankersen and Co is one of context, in short buying players when they are valued below their worth and then waiting for a point to sell at a higher price. It sounds simple but is not an exact science.

Wanderers do have a very clear example in their recent history, that of striker Gary Madine. Picked up on a free transfer on his release from Sheffield Wednesday, he had not been seen as a starting centre-forward by the man who signed him, Neil Lennon, but as financial issues took hold he gained more playing time and went into the following season in League One, then under Phil Parkinson, as the starting centre-forward.

Madine was integral to Parkinson’s tactical plan; in fact, Bolton only won two of 15 games in the 2016/17 season without him. He finished the campaign with a relatively modest 10 goals but when Wanderers returned the Championship, he had equalled that total by January – his stock at its very highest.

When Cardiff City enquired midway through the month former owner Ken Anderson saw his own window of opportunity, driving the price up to a cool £6million. He claimed at the time that the deal would see the club make a small profit in the financial year, but sadly and somewhat mysteriously, the accounts have never seen the light of day.

Football’s reluctance to fully embrace the data-driven approach is rooted in its traditions. Scouts continue to be sent out to drive up and down the motorways to fill out reports and cast their eye over future opponents and potential signings. Even Brentford owner Benham freely admits that the number-crunching will never completely replace the ‘football eye’.

Its introduction may also be a culture clash for Bolton. Neither Hill nor Flitcroft have worked that way before – and even though they seem ready to accept a new way of thinking there is sure to be an adjustment period.

Recent recruits like Muhammadu Faal, from Enfield, and George Thomason, from Longridge Town, suggest Wanderers are already exploring the road less travelled. Both have been involved in first team squad already but it is unrealistic to expect the new plan to produce right away.

January business may still have a touch of short-termism about it. Bolton still refuse to admit defeat in their efforts to stay up and Football Ventures say they intend to bring in players who can – to quote – ‘give it a flipping good go’. But we may only see the grand plan unfold once the summer is upon us and we know exactly what division the club is playing in.

The ‘Moneyball’ method cannot possibly be fool-proof, or else it simply wouldn’t exist. Rather it relies on the business principles of getting the best people in the right positions.

If it works, Wanderers could move towards the sustainable model that the owners so crave. If it doesn’t, the club could find itself in the bottom tier of English football for only the second time in its history without the proverbial paddle.